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CCCI invites Yiyun Li, award-winning author, to discuss her literary life with roots in China

Yiyun Li

May 2017 - CCCI speaker Yiyun Li publishes New Yorker piece on living between China and the U.S.

When Yiyun Li was in Ithaca in February, she spoke to the CCCI audience about writing in her adopted language of English. In the May 8 issue of The New Yorker, Li’s story “A Small Flame” elegantly depicts the personal histories and relationships of people living between China and the U.S. The intimate acts of adoption and replacement again appear here as crucial tropes of the story. With literature’s unique capability to put in play the textures and complexities of living, the piece has plenty to teach us about our contemporary world, China, and people who live in both.


Does writing make life worth living? Can words cure the ailments of life? In Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life, Yiyun Li explores the healing power of literature through an intimate reflection of her own life choices and struggles. The memoir chronicles her long connection with books from a childhood growing up in China to her experience immigrating to the U.S. and building a career as a writer in an unfamiliar land.

As a sufferer of severe depression, Li also opens up about her recent journey of recovery through the process of writing. She will give a talk titled "To Speak Is to Blunder but I Venture," on Monday, February 27, at 4:30pm in Kaufmann Auditorium, G64 Goldwin Smith Hall based on this latest work. This event is free and open to the public. She will share her personal history, examining questions of immigrant identity and selfhood, and address her ongoing conflicts with her relationships with her mother country and mother tongue.

Her lecture is part of the Cornell Contemporary China Initiative Lecture Series. The lecture series runs on Mondays this semester and features an all-women lineup of scholars who will explore issues of labor, capitalism, media, cinema, foreign policy, and literature. Li is the second speaker for this spring.

Dear Friends, Li’s first nonfiction book, is a departure from her previous works of short stories and novels. She debuted with a short-story collection, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, which won the Frank O’Conner International Short Story Award, PEN/Hemingway Award, Guardian First Book Award, and the California Book Award for first fiction. Her other publications include The Vagrants, Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, and Kinder Than Solitude.

Li has an M.F.A. in creative nonfiction writing from the University of Iowa. She was a recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2010 and winner of the Benjamin H. Danks Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Li is currently a professor of English at UC Davis.

Her visit to Ithaca is cosponsored by the Department of Writing and the School of Humanities and Sciences at Ithaca College. She will also give a public reading of Kinder Than Solitude on Tuesday, February 28 at 7:30pm in Clarke Lounge at Ithaca College.

The CCCI Lecture Series has previously brought dozens of speakers to Cornell to give interdisciplinary talks about contemporary Chinese history, culture, and society. Past speakers came from all over the world and from diverse professional backgrounds including professors, lawyers, journalists, authors, and musicians. Their extensive expertise in an array of academic and career fields offers unique perspectives on the study of China today.

For more information about this semester's events: